Two of the sports most exciting lightweights will wage war this Saturday night (September 24, 2011) on the UFC 125 main card as The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season five winner, Nate Diaz, takes on "The Fireball Kid" Takanori Gomi.
After getting tossed around in his last fight, Diaz is dropping back down to 155 pounds, a weight class in which he's balanced great success with frustration against the top wrestlers in the division. He couldn't have asked for a more ideal opponent in Takanori Gomi.
Gomi's reputation as the most dangerous lightweight in the world has faded, but he sticks packs a wallop in his fists as evidenced by his incredible knockout of Tyson Griffin last year. Gomi was completely baffled by Clay Guida's funky movement in his last fight bu the shouldn't have any problems finding his opponent's head this time around.
This bout also has added significance as Gomi competed against Nate Diaz's older brother Nick at Pride 33 in one of MMA's most entertaining fights of all time. Gomi would lose via gogoplata (although the result would be overturned after Diaz tested positive for marijauna.) Gomi would love an opportunity to take some vengeance out on Diaz's baby brother.
Can Nate Diaz douse "The Fireball Kid" with a healthy dose of volume punches and submissions? Will Gomi be able to connect with the sledgehammers he calls fists and stop Diaz via strikes for the first time? Which lightweight will get back on track in the crowded 155 pound division?
Record: 13-7 overall, 8-5 in the UFC
How he got here: Nate Diaz didn't take the easy road. He made his MMA debut in the WEC and by his seventh professional fight, he was fighting for the promotion's lightweight title against Hermes Franca at the Brazilian's peak, losing via submission in the second round.
Undeterred, Diaz tried out for season five of The Ultimate Fighter, the first season to showcase the lightweight division. The self-assured Stockton native was one of the season's stars, constantly arguing with castmates, guest coaches and the like. He defeated Rob Emerson, Corey Hill and most impressively Gray Maynard via submission to compete in the finale where he would be gifted the show's championship after fellow finalist Manny Gamburyan separated his shoulder in the main event.
Diaz got off to a hot start, defeating his first five UFC opponents before being derailed by tough wrestlers Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson. After an impressive second round submission of Melvin Guillard, Diaz would lose a split decision to Gray Maynard which would fuel his decision to bump up a weight class.
At welterweight, Diaz again was off to a terrific start, stopping both Rory Markham and Marcus Davis in his first two fights. This would put him in a position against some of the toughest young 170 pounders. Diaz had trouble getting outmuscled by Dong Hyun Kim in a tightly contested match and would get tossed around the cage by Rory MacDonald in a bout where he was completely physically dominated.
This spurred the decision to return to lightweight, as suggested by his coach Cesar Gracie and Diaz was paired up against Takanori Gomi, a scrappy fighter with some serious history against his brother.
How he gets it done: In the stand-up department, expect Diaz to probe with his jabs, pitter-pattering Gomi with volume punches in a style very similar to his brother. Nate Diaz does not have the power of his older sibling, but he possesses similar endurance and can throw just as many strikes. As evidenced by his fights against Rory Markham and Marcus Davis, he can still do some serious damage with his punches.
Another key element in Diaz's attack is his use of judo techniques while scrambling in the clinch. The Cesar Gracie fighter has some fantastic trips at his disposal as well as perfectly timed throws if he ever notices that his opponent is off balance.
On the ground, the TUF season five winner has some nasty submissions in his arsenal. He's just as capable of finishing a fight from his back as on top, if not moreso. He finished fighters like Kurt Pellegrino and Melvin Guillard after being put on his back and Gomi fell into a similar trap against his brother.
Diaz loves to bang but by keeping the fight standing, he's risking getting "Tyson Griffon'd" by Gomi's power. He'll be the more accurate striker, but there will be a huge risk of that flash knockout. The best plan of action would be to close the distance, work a trip takedown or even pull guard and then go to work with his lethal submission. If Diaz can get this fight to the ground, he's over halfway to victory already.
Record: 32-7 (1 No Contest) overall, 1-2 in the UFC
How he got here: At one point, Takanori Gomi was the most feared lightweight on the planet. He began his career 14-0 and primarily as a freestyle and catch wrestler. Despite his current reputation as an incredibly powerful striker, "The Fireball Kid" only scored two knockouts in his first 14 fights.
He ran into his first roadblock with consecutive losses to Joachim Hansen and B.J. Penn in late 2003 but would bounce back in impressive fashion, famously winning 10 straight in Pride including first round stoppage victories over Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Hayato Sakurai. He would also win and defend the Pride lightweight championship during this period.
The heavy-handed Japanese striker would famously compete in one of MMA's most legendary fights, brawling with Nick Diaz at Pride 33 and nearly knocking out the elder Diaz brother before gassing out and getting caught in a slick gogoplata. His loss to Diaz was overturned, but the memory of that fight is forever burned into the minds of hardcore fans everywhere.
Gomi has gone 5-4 since the Diaz fight including a 1-2 stint in the UFC in which he was dominated by both Kenny Florian and Clay Guida but managed a knockout of the year candidate against Tyson Griffin. He could be fighting for his promotional future on Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Gomi has become so obsessed with his knockout power that he's allowed his wrestling and grappling skills to deteriorate. He's no longer a threat to take Nate Diaz down and either pound on him or soften him up for submissions, that would only open up opportunities for his opponent to latch on a submission hold.
Instead, Gomi needs to probe with his jab, use his footwork to cut off escape attempts and look for that knockout blow with his killer fists. Expect to see Gomi really work on finding his range before exploding with a power strike.
Nate Diaz isn't exactly known for his striking defense. He gets bloodied up or knocked down in a majority of his fights and that's something to be concerned about. Gomi has the power to not only knock Diaz down but put his lights out long enough to score a TKO victory or worse.
"The Fireball Kid" is known for his wild style and his reckless attacks in the stand-up realm. If Diaz wants a stand-up brawl, Gomi should accept the challenge and go for the knockout because at this point in his career, that's what he does best.
Fight "X-Factor:" The biggest X-Factor for this fight will be the battle between Takanori Gomi's fists and Nate Diaz's chin. We all know Diaz can take a shot and keep coming, but that doesn't mean he's impossible to knock out. Diaz has a knack for getting cracked early in a fight and that's the big opportunity that Gomi needs to seize.
What happens if Gomi connects early could be the deciding factor in this bout. Diaz usually recovers very quickly and not only survives, but bounces back to win the fight. He did so against both Melvin Guillard and Marcus Davis and he's capable of doing it again.
If Gomi does hurt Diaz early, he absolutely needs to rush him and try desperately for the finish because he will lose ground with every second that ticks off the clock while Diaz becomes stronger.
Bottom Line: When Gomi fought Nick Diaz, it was one of the greatest fights in MMA history. While expectations are high for this bout, it won't live up to that legendary tilt, nor should we expect it to. What fans should expect is an exciting stand-up brawl with the possibilities of becoming a ground battle if Diaz sees an opportunity or begins to lose the striking exchanges. While standing, this has the potential to be as fun to watch as any fight on the card. This is my pick for "Fight of the Night" so don't miss out.
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